Tuesday, December 31, 2013

That Time of Year

There is a general need to summarize each year at the end of it, for better or for worse, or for all the click traffic that definitive lists can bring you. I’ve been putting it off. For starters, I think it’s imprudent to make the “best of” lists before the year is even over – a lot could happen in that last two weeks. Not saying it necessarily does, only that it could. There’s no need to get ahead of ourselves.

For me, personally, 2013 was one of those years in which a lot of great things happened but now that it’s coming to a close, it just feels pretty mediocre. Maybe it’s because I’m getting older and each year just kind of bleeds into the next. The steady march of adulthood continues on. I will be thirty next year. It used to be this huge milestone that I was dreading for reasons that were silly and never made much sense. The most logical reason is one that I haven't allowed myself to consider yet: I’m not ready for the existential torment of comparing where I am with where I thought I would be. It doesn’t matter, because this is where I am and this is what it is. This is my life, for better, for worse, for contentment, for disappointment. I suppose, by default, I have chosen the status quo. The idea of Big Change terrifies me. I will admit that. Especially since I am still so uncertain as to what I want. I don’t want to hastily rush into the wrong decision just because I feel like I should be doing something. I am not unhappy or discontent with my life as it is, so I’m not sure why I feel so much pressure to shake it up, turn it upside down, and do something big. I suppose I’ve read too much about all the other movers and shakers of my generation and the pied piper is calling me. But I don’t know where that road goes and I don’t want to go anywhere unknown. Not yet.

And anyway, thirty’s not that old. If nothing else, I am looking forward to be taken a little more seriously. I actually had my age thrown back in my face once, earlier this summer, to the effect that I was too young to be able to execute a stern conversation to an individual that had been causing headaches to the softball nonprofit I’ve been volunteering with most of my adult life, that perhaps it would be better if it came from someone older. Someone worth listening to, apparently. I chose not to fight the battle, because why willingly push for an opportunity to create a confrontation? But it stung. Perhaps it’s problematic that I’ve been with this group for so long. They still see me as the young college student that I was when I started. Even though it’s been nearly a decade. Even though I’ve been involved with this group longer than most of the current members. My seniority is constantly stripped from me because I’m too young to be taken seriously. It was frustrating. It’s always frustrating. I doubt that being able scream “BUT I’M THIRTY!” will actually help much, but it’s still a comforting thought that it might.

I stopped writing at some point. I don’t know how long it’s been. Months, probably. A quick peek at the archive count on the sidebar is pretty telling. The only other year that was remotely close to this one was 2008 – and that was because I started this blog in September of that year. 41 posts in three months that year, versus 52 posts (53, if you count this one) over twelve in this one. An average of 13ish posts a month, then, versus a mere 4ish, now. (Compared to my all-time high of ~22 posts per month in 2010, it’s almost downright shameful.)

I wish I could say that it’s because I was writing offline, but I wasn’t. I just stopped. It was too exhausting to put words together, and even if I started patchworking sentences in my head, by the time I got to the keyboard, there was no motivation or energy left to finish the thought. So I stopped, rather out of the blue, and for longer than I realized or meant to. It was only when I started to feel the nagging urge to summarize my year did I realize how long it had been.

Because of this, I’ve done a rather rubbish job of keeping up with the events of the last twelve months. The more behind I got, the more overwhelmed I felt, and the harder it was to start… leaving me here at the end with most all of it unsaid. I’ve switched positions within my company; it was a quiet move and I still haven’t gotten around to updating any of my social information with it, but my day-to-day looks different now. Part of the reason for this is that we are still patching together what it is I do. I’m still collecting tasks and duties and the only relevant description I can give right now is “web stuff” – I’m not a programmer, I’m not a web designer, but I work with them in some sort of information systems capacity. The product line that I’ve poured my heart and soul into is ceasing production at the end of this year, and it was sad to bid it farewell, but I am easing into this new position quite comfortably and I’ve already learned enough to make myself useful. This all started in June and I never said a word. I was already too behind. I never finished my BiSC recaps. I never wrote about my 5Ks – one of my most victorious of accomplishments this year. I’ve said very little about my adorable new nephew (though if you follow me on Instagram, you’ll see that he has, in fact, been well-documented.) I never wrote about the sleep study I did and how I’ve been struggling with getting my well-being situated back to functional. I’ve left my opinions on social, political, and cultural happenings largely unranted, save for my little soapbox speeches on facebook that eventually will be buried by time and by other less-relevant thoughts.

Perhaps it’s just as well; I’ve been contemplating a cleanup of this space anyway, to only leave the pieces I’m proud of, and to cut the inane babbling of my early twenties. It’s an odd feeling to be able to so readily dismiss the thoughts of your previous self as unimportant, uninspired, and a tad insipid… but I suppose, again, that’s just part of the growing process. Part of me wants to leave it there – evidence of how much I’ve grown and developed. But without much recent documentation, there’s not much to compare it to. During one very brief, very depressed moment last month, I considered just deleting the whole damn thing and erasing any trace of it ever having existed. I knew that it was just a rash impulse based on a very specific frustration (see: not writing), but I can’t be sure that the only thing that stopped me at that moment was the simple fact that I’ve built something and I’m not done with it. 

It doesn’t hurt, either, that I’ve been allowed a few perks along the way. I’ve never really been able to monetize this space, which is fine… but I’ve had a (very) few opportunities to write in exchange for freebies or compensation. Those are nice because in addition to the free stuff (I have finally arrived!), it gives me some direction. It’s always fun to take a specific subject and give it my own spin, my own twist… especially when there are others writing about the same thing. It’s an exercise in creativity, in a way, and it’s fun for me to do, even if it might not be particularly interesting to everyone who reads it. It’s a means of sharpening my skill, which is something that is sorely needed.

Content is a fickle thing, anyway. I’m not after traffic. I never have been. This blog was always a space to purge the thoughts that I am so very incapable of articulating like a regular person, in conversation to other regular people. It was a way to connect. It was a way to express. And I’m glad I’ve always sort of had that line in the sand drawn from the beginning, despite a few minor detours where I fantasized about becoming a famous, income-generating blogger (haven’t we all?) – the amount of effort and work required to achieve such a thing was something I never had the capacity to give. I work too much at my day job, I spend too much time wandering the Internet researching my current obsessions, reading, so much reading, otherwise I’m doing my best not to turn into a hermit and to take care of the relationships in my life. Again, not something I’m great at, because as an introvert, my default mode is solitude. It doesn’t even occur to me to be social sometimes; I can spend days without talking to anyone outside of work and not think anything of it. It’s just the way I’m wired and it probably makes me a terrible friend. I do get jealous of all the close friendships I see around me… but I feel like I’ve been socially impaired for so long that I don’t know how to achieve or maintain that level of closeness anyway. It’s something I need to work on. At least I’m aware of it.

Back to the subject of content, though. I’ve noticed, have been noticing, the not-so-subtle shift of online content into complete and utter trash. Content simply for the sake of traffic and advertising revenue. I’ve seen multiple people comment that the golden era of blogging is over, and perhaps it is, and perhaps it needs to be. It’s fine. Like I said, it’s always been a futile ambition for me to chase traffic, so I am resigned to writing for myself – which is what I prefer. But I was writing to an audience of two or three (if that) before the explosion of blogging and I will (ideally) continue to write after the inevitable decline of the medium. One of my biggest peeves of the year is the viral content phenomenon. Sure, I like Internet memes as much as the next person (probably more than the next person) but I don’t like how they instruct me how to feel or what to think. For that matter, I am so over and done with lists that dictate how I should be at a stage in my life. I came across an article entitled “29 Things You're Too Old For As Of Your 29th Birthday” about a week before my 29th birthday, and by the time I was a few bullets in, I was done. Perhaps it’s because I’ve matured and am (probably) ready for 30 now, the decade of Real Adulthood or Being Taken Seriously, but my only personal bullet for Things To Stop Doing was “Stop taking life advice from bullshit internet lists.”

My other big peeve is generating content or news simply to be first, without fact-checking or verifying information. This is more a complaint directed at the news media than anyone else, but I know there are blogs and sites that have fallen victim to false information and many a hoax. Neither here nor there, but it drives me crazy.

But I digress. (Some things never change.)

I have not been writing. I have been doing copious amounts of mental plotting. I have about two and a half semi-solid starting points for novels floating around in my brain. I spent my drives up to my hometown for the holidays listening to Christmas music and occasionally singing along to the radio. I spent my drives home inventing characters and trying to hammer the plots into scenarios that might make sense. In my head, I compose the novels I will probably never write. It’s a depressing thought, especially when I got home on Christmas night and was too tired to open my laptop to record any of my breakthroughs from the last hour and a half. It’s ridiculous, this writing thing. The thing I have wanted to do since I was ten, writing stories on folded and stapled sheets of lined notebook paper during recess. The thing I wanted to do so badly that I was too terrified to legitimately pursue it in higher education. I didn’t take a single writing class in college. I had plenty of electives that needed filled; I ran the other way. It would have meant making it real, admitting that it was something I wanted, opening myself up to the possibility of failure, ridicule, or criticism. I learned the importance of developing a thick skin during the critique process of my graphic design training; I understand and acknowledge that importance while still struggling with the implementation. It’s not personal, they say. It’s never personal. Oh, but it is. Any time you create something, any time you pour a little of yourself into it… it becomes personal. It’s your soul, on the page, for people to rip apart and mock and raise an eyebrow toward. I’m probably too sensitive for my own good and that’s probably why I should abandon the whole thing. People are ruthless. Especially nowadays, when they can hide behind their screens (the very way I am doing now – only a bit more, you know, nefariously).

I feel like I’ve hit a critical point, now, where I either need to do something about it or shut up about it for good. The difference between writers and people who want to be writers, is that the former group actually does it. You don’t create a story without putting words on paper (or pixels on a screen, tomato, tomahto.) Hemming and hawing and being scared or tired or uninspired is a solid brand of failure. So I’m resolving, in 2014, to try. Put words down. Even if they’re awful. Put the words down, more and more, until they become a thing, until they take a life of their own and become a story. Finish something. Because if I don’t, if I don’t try now, then I will continue like this for the rest of my life, wanting but not doing, pondering but failing. “I always wanted to be a writer,” I will be saying, forever, to anyone who asked, but it will mean nothing. Maybe I always thought I wanted to be a glamorous movie star, too - or a sharp-tongued, quick-witted business lady, or a legit softball player, or the President of the United States, or anything I could dream up, but all those are just figments of imagination and wishful thinking. If I don’t make an effort, “writer” is going on that same heap of things. The heap of things that never was. The heap of ambitious but unlikely childhood career goals: doctor, lawyer, astronaut, ballerina, firefighter, policeman, princess, novelist.

My point is: do or do not, but stop talking about it and decide. Because all the wistful longing in the world means precisely shit when what I am actually doing with my life is sitting at a desk doing a 9-5 office job and coming home to a shoebox apartment in the center of the Midwest. The Midwest, where practicality is more important than dreaming, and I should know better by now. Dreaming your life away is not a valid career option. Not for anyone, anywhere. Maybe I’m being hard on myself… that’s nothing new. I'm just tired of always hitting my own dead-ends. 

This post is long and has become pointless, but I’m not sure what to cut and I fear that if I try to break it into multiple, smaller posts, none of it will get said at all. So, TL;DR: here are some words to mark the close of the year, since I’ve been negligent at providing them up until now. I have no great insights into what I hope to accomplish in 2014. The world seems large and overwhelming right now, there are changes I want to make (there always are) and there are things I want to do, but tomorrow's date means nothing. The calendar will change but it is another day, much like the one before it, and the one before that. It doesn’t feel significant anymore. It doesn’t feel like there’s any exceptional promise or possibility simply because a digit changed. That which has been is what will be, that which is done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun. Which is apparently from the Bible since I have just taken the time to Google the entire phrase and credit it accordingly. Huh. Who knew? At any rate… life, it goes on, same as it always has. Perhaps when we reach this point next year, my head will be in a better place.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Have Yourself A Merry Minted Christmas (+Giveaway!)

I’m not entirely sure why, but I’ve always loved the idea of sending holiday cards, at least as a grown-up. We used to get a ton of them in the mail when I was little and I always found them to be vaguely boring. It was just a thing people did, and the best I could figure out, it was more of a symbolic gesture to indicate people that they were important to you and that you were thinking of them, even if you rarely spoke. I had heard my grandparents talk about their network of acquaintances, wartime buddies or fellow traveling companions or people that they had met somewhere or another, that they’d become friendly with and had started exchanging Christmas cards with. It was an acknowledgment of some obscure yet specific layer of intimacy, if you were acquainted well enough with somebody to include them on your Christmas card list, and vice versa. I think you hear it a lot with older generations – people they knew once, they’d mostly lost touch with, but they still exchanged holiday cards. It’s kind of a romantic notion; nowadays we’re connected with everyone we’ve ever met, however briefly or insignificantly, via social media, so the concept of the “holiday card bond” is kind of moot.

And yet… I’ve always returned to that idea. A few years back, I decided that one of my duties as an Official Adult was that I start sending holiday cards to friends and family. It was something I just felt compelled to do. It’s not a particularly cheap endeavor, what with the rising costs of postage and the actual purchasing of the cards to send, but I think I am still holding on to that sentiment of correspondence: a holiday card is symbolic of friendship and fondness. I don’t do a lot of gift-giving anymore, but I always make sure to send cards. It’s my own little way of spreading holiday cheer.

Now, there is a general tendency for holiday cards to be one of four things: festive yet generic storebought cards, custom cards with pictures of kids/family, custom cards with pictures from a recent wedding, or a letter full of humblebragging about all the great things that happened to your family over the year. (Please note that the Letter can accompany any of the three options preceding it in the list.) There is nothing inherently wrong with any of these; I tend to favor photo cards because I like looking at people’s pictures. The letters… I’m torn on the letters. On the one hand, sometimes it’s nice to get an update on someone’s life, especially if they’ve moved or had other significant life events. On the other… yeah, a lot of the time it just sounds like thinly veiled boasting and/or sugarcoating the details of one’s existence in order to sound interesting. In other words, a printed version of facebook.

I think I did the festive yet generic storebought cards for a couple years… but one fateful year, I decided it would be hilarious to send out holiday cards featuring my cat. Having neither kids, a family of my own, or a recent engagement/wedding, it had never really occurred to me to do photo cards. It just seemed slightly narcissistic to send people a picture of myself. A photo of a cat would be a bit tongue-in-cheek and also somewhat adorable. Besides, I can make holiday pet puns until I’m blue in the face. It’s a gift.

I wasn’t content to stop there, though. Oh no. I put my cat in a Santa suit designed for pets and a grand tradition was born. I’m not even sure what the response was that first year; I’m sure a couple of people were amused, but no one more so than myself. In years that followed, there was an elf suit, a simple Santa hat, and my personal favorite from last year, an ugly sweater. One year I decided to design a pretty card with snowflakes and sentiment and no photos; it was super boring and I have always sort of regretted it. I can’t tell you what this year’s theme is yet because that would totally ruin the surprise, but I’m pretty pleased with it. Kitty was a marvelously well-behaved model this year and I got the winning shot in less than ten takes. I think she’s learning.

As far as the cards themselves, the actual, physical pieces of paper upon which my incredibly amazing cat photos are displayed, it’s been varied. It’s been a couple years since I’ve done holiday photo cards from an online vendor, mostly because Shutterfly either stopped doing their blogger promotion program or stopped inviting me to do their blogger promotion program. Either way, I wasn’t getting free cards anymore and, all things being equal, it was slightly cheaper to just design my own and have them printed up. May as well put that graphic design degree to use, right? Since I’ll be paying it off for the REST OF MY LIFE. (Hyperbole alert!) I’m very proud of how fridge-worthy my cards are, and yes, I am fully aware that this has everything to do with my cat and nothing to do with me.

I’ve thought about going back to a vendor, because it’s quicker and easier to just drop in a photo and pick from their pretty designs, but… I don’t know. It didn’t quite feel like “me” anymore. I could always find designs that I liked, but it was always choosing from what was just... there. I also developed kind of a peeve about being forced into cards that say “the [whatever] family” because… it’s weird. Me and my cat do not a family make. Which was the point of using my cat in the first place. So for the last couple years I did my own, 100% custom, for better or worse.

About two days after I ordered my cards this year (go figure), I was contacted by the good folks at Minted about doing a site review featuring their holiday card collection. I poked around a bit and decided that yes, yes I would. Because their cards are beautiful. If I could take all of my Pinterest boards and throw them into a blender and then turn the subsequent visual smoothie into stationery and cards, it would be the general aesthetic of the offering on Minted. (Aaaand that right there is a sentence they’re totally going to want to use for future marketing. Ha.) 

I think my favorite part of reviews like this is that I get to pick out all the designs that I maybe would have chosen as kind of runner-ups to what I actually end up with. Kind of like having the best of both worlds. Here are all the possible cards you could have received from me. If you don’t like the one you got, pretend it was one of these instead. Or something. I’m a bit peeved that I already ordered my cards but I love their regular stationery too so I guess it’ll all work out in the end.

The first thing that caught my eye was the cards that are made to look like they have glitter. I love me some glitter, especially when it comes to the holidays. I actually incorporated some into my own design, but theirs is definitely better executed than mine. And the best part about the trompe l'oeil effect is that you don’t infect all of your recipients with a houseful of sparkle from now until next Thanksgiving. Everyone wins!

[link for this design, because I am helpful]

They’ve also got cards with foil. Because SHINY. There are a couple cards that look like they have foil (which I’m guessing are a bit more economical) and versions that have Actual Foil (which I’m guessing are a bit more awesome.)


(Top | Bottom)

I rather love this one too, you can customize it to your location. Midwest pride! (Or East Coast or West Coast, if that's your thing.)


Below, you can see where I took a screenshot of the personalization preview screen. It's super easy to edit and move, and they have a designer work on it and send you a proof before printing.


Actually, let's talk about their customization for a minute. Most sites only let you fill in your names and photos. The rest is pretty stock. However, on these, you can edit everything, from the message to the location - you can drag it wherever you want and make it say whatever you want. And on some cards, that flexibility is extra awesome.

Take this card, for example. You can move, reposition, or delete the halos as needed to match your photo. I'm not sure if you can add one or not (I didn't try), but I am incredibly impressed by how much you can personalize these and make them fit your needs.


With almost all of the designs (at least all of the ones that caught my eye), you have a few different color schemes to choose from and a few other ways to customize your cards, like choosing a shape (you're not confined to either "square corners" or "round corners" either), adding a backer, or even matching address labels. I am a huge dork about having matching address labels. The problem is I never use them all because address labels always come in higher quantities than my cards, so now I have a big mish-mash of assorted holiday-esque address labels, and I am forcing myself to use those this year instead of getting new ones. ADMIRE MY DISCIPLINE, EVERYONE.

*cough* Anyway. They’ve also got a bunch of nice, clean, lovely cards. Cards that I wish I had nice pictures to put in. Cards that are probably suited for couples and families and kids, but no matter. Someday I’m going to take an artistic black and white photo of my cat and that will be my holiday card. Maybe next year, in fact. *NOTE TO SELF*

[clockwise: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5]

They've also got some unique and clever designs. I love the tag shape of these and the concept behind each of them. The one on the right is all the things the Letter is, without being obnoxious or boasty. The one on the left is an absolutely adorable card for a family with a new baby.

[left | right]

Another nifty thing they have are ornament cards. Cards that are ornaments! The only thing I don’t love about those is that they probably have to go in square envelopes which require extra postage, but there are ways around that. Like sticking them in regular envelopes. Like I do with square birthday cards because I’m a cheapskate.


Lastly, this has less to do with design and more with the site itself, but I absolutely love that they depict something other than "Mom-Dad-Kid1-Kid2" and represent other types of family.


I mean, JUST LOOK at this adorable couple. I've yet to see any other holiday card site be cool enough to break outside the traditional mainstream paradigm. Kudos to Minted on that one.

I could probably sit and do this all night. They've got a ton of great designs and pretty unlimited possibilities with all the ways you can personalize your cards to make them your own. If you haven’t ordered your holiday cards yet (which I’m guessing most of you haven’t, since you’re not all crazy-obsessive like I am), you should definitely hop on over to their site and check out their options

Need some more motivation to go look? How about a $25 credit? BECAUSE I'M GETTING MY OPRAH ON AND I HAVE $25 TO GIVE TO ONE OF YOU MAGNIFICENT CREATURES. Just leave me a comment telling me what your favorite design is (because I'm nosy and like to see what other people's taste is) and boom! You're entered. If you want a bonus entry (I know you do), go ahead and tweet. I don't care what you say as long as it's nice and as long as you mention me (@kelalea) and @Minted. Winner will be drawn and announced via blog post/email/tweet/carrier pigeon on or around noonish on Friday, December 6.


Disclaimer’d: I was given site credit in exchange for a review of Minted and their holiday card collection. I do love me some pretty holiday cards. All opinions are my own, as always. 


**** UPDATE ****

Drumroll please...


Congrats to....



STACEY!!!! I'll be emailing you shortly with your code.

Thanks for participating, everyone!

Friday, November 1, 2013

It's the Great Halloween Recap Post, Charlie Brown

Halloween is one of those holidays that I'd really love to love, but it seems like I rarely have anything to do for it, and it's hard to muster up the excitement to create a clever costume if you've got nowhere to wear it. Not that that necessarily stops me... I just perhaps don't go as all-out as I should. My friends need to start having Halloween parties again. I miss those.

First things first... the kitty costume. She was pretty much possessed by the devil last Halloween so I didn't even try to dress her up, but she's been a good kitty this year so it was time to bring the tradition back.

Behold... Frankenkitty!



Next, my spur-of-the moment Wednesday night costume idea. I had zero plans for Halloween this year (as is what frequently happens when the holiday falls on a weeknight) but I couldn't help myself. As soon as I saw it in Target, I knew.

It's like I have ESPN or something.

I channeled my inner Karen Smith and it was great. We went and got "Boo-ritos" at Chipotle ($3 if you're wearing a costume!) and once I fully explained my costume (my costume of a person wearing a costume?) she told me that I was her hero. It redeemed all the times I have wept for society.



It was my little nephew's first Halloween, and he seemed to enjoy it. I mean, he obviously doesn't grasp the concept of trick-or-treating yet, but he seemed perfectly content in his little costume.


(Despite my profound affection for koalas, I actually had no hand in picking this out. Which made it even more awesome.)

I also made some pretty sweet looking Halloween cookies. It's my recipe for "Christmas" sugar cookies but I decided to break tradition and make them early this year. It was kind of fun to have new shapes and colors to work with.


Laaaaaaaast but not least, I never got around to posting my Halloween costume from last year, which is a shame, because I was pretty pleased with it. Even more so because it was super last minute because I changed my mind about four times about what I wanted to be.


If you don't know who this is, then... um... well you're probably pretty young and I just proved how old I am. Whatever, don't care.

Anyway. I spent my Halloween watching such timeless classics as Hocus Pocus (side note: that movie came out twenty years ago. How's that for feeling old? Oy) and eating a burrito bowl. Oh, and I carved a pumpkin for the first time in, mehhhhhhhhhh I don't know, ten years? Fifteen? I can't even remember. I opted to go for a traditional look rather than "cheating" and using one of the patterns that came with the carving kit. (Side note: I was really skeptical about the quality of the cheapy tools from the aforementioned kit... but you know what? They worked great. Who knew?)

Incidentally, this was the very first jack-o-lantern in which I scooped the "guts" out myself. That was always a job left to my dad. Because: squishy and gross. Obviously. Therefore, this pumpkin is probably the best one ever. Because I did it all by myself. I suppose I could cross that off of my abandoned list of "things to do before I turn 30."

It's the little victories, people.


Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Well hello there.

Hey, remember me? I used to write here.

I make a thousand excuses to myself every day as to why I've been letting this space collect dust. I've opened a new post page a few times, stared at the blinking cursor, and clicked the little red X in the upper right corner. Words don't come as easily as they used to. It's not that I have finally run out of things to say, it's just that I can't seem to articulate things like I once did.

It's true, I've been busy. But busy isn't the reason. It's a convenient alibi, sure. But I could have made time. I just didn't.

So, there's that. And it's been an entire month since I've blogged and that seems like a long time, now that I look at it. It didn't feel like that long. It was a simple accumulation of Days Not Blogged that suddenly added up. Like a coin jar. A little here, a little there, and suddenly you've got enough cold hard cash to take yourself to the movies. (This metaphor has been adjusted for inflation.)

This happens a lot, though, I think. Every fall I tend to wander away but I come back in late October. This is probably because November is National Blog Posting Month and I've dominated that challenge for the last three years. I'd already decided that I wasn't going to do it this year but now that I'm sitting here, typing words, I'm getting itchy to try it. If all else fails, I've got a lot of pumpkin products and goodies to report back on. It's the BEST kind of filler! It's seasonally appropriate! And it was my justification for trying ALL the pumpkin things!

At any rate, hello again. It's the 30th of October in the year 2013, and I have a cat to put into costume, some cookies that I need to finish decorating, and an annual viewing of Hocus Pocus to take in.

And a boatload of overdue updates that I will hopefully document soon. Because that's what I do.





Monday, September 30, 2013

Pumpkins & Politics

I'm stealing this from my own facebook status because, whatever, it's long enough for a blog post. And I'm trying to blog more. Ergo, DOUBLE POST.

1. Can we just all sort of pinky-swear that we are collectively going to vote out of office everyone that's in Congress right now and get a brand new batch in next time 'round? And so and and so on until they've all been unseated? Because our government sucks at governing. They're REALLY good at bickering though.

 2. I saw a snide comment somewhere earlier where someone was all "ooh, the national parks are shutting down, big deal, whatever" - NO, ignoramous, that is not what the fuss is about. Clearly you don't know anyone that has a federally funded job because, hey, they're not going to be getting paid for a while - which IS a big deal if they have, y'know, houses and family and the desire to pay bills and/or eat. Meanwhile, Congress is getting paid regardless, so what do they care if this shutdown takes forever. Doesn't affect them. / Side though, aren't most of them rich from their previous jobs as lawyers or whatever anyway? Maybe we should just pay them minimum wage. I mean, that's a federal standard, right?

3. I saw a headline that was all MODERATE REPUBLICANS ARE PLANNING TO REVOLT and I hope that happens because that would be bad-ass. In my head I'm picturing them kicking open the doors to the chambers and walking in in slow-motion like a ragtag group of action heroes.

4. To steal my friend Sean's status: "So as I understand it, the GOP is willing to have a total govt shutdown and hurt the economy to make a point that the Affordable Care Act will hurt the economy..."

5. I still don't get why "Obamacare" is bad. Do we not want people to have health insurance? Do we not all like having health insurance? I LIKE HAVING HEALTH INSURANCE AND I AM GENERALLY A BIG FAN OF ANYTHING THAT IS "AFFORDABLE" USUALLY. Did I miss something? I'm actually kind of serious. What's the problem?  

6. The pumpkin spice bread I got today was highly disappointing. It kind of tastes just like the cinnamon raisin swirl bread by the same company. That didn't stop me from eating four slices of it, but, man. What a bummer. Also, in the comments for that pumpkin-hatin' article I posted the other day, someone pointed out that all y'all only have to deal with the deluge of pumpkin for a season, whereas the bacon fad is year-round and never stops. SO THERE.

EDIT (for future historical reference): the shutdown ended at the eleventh hour, we didn't default, and life returned to a relative normal, at least until January/February when this whole circus could repeat itself again. 'Merica!

Saturday, September 28, 2013

'Tis Almost The Season...

YOU GUYS. Despite the fact that there has never been a shortage of 5Ks around here, I've only picked out a small handful of them to do, because they can get kind of pricey and I'm not in great enough shape (yet!) to do them all the time. I have two more "real" 5Ks on the docket for November (they are even chip timed! I've never done a chip timed race!) and I had pretty much decided that that would be it for the year.

Then my mom forwarded me an email from Groupon (most of which I largely ignore, but can't quite bring myself to unsubscribe from), because she knows me entirely too well.

IT'S AN UGLY SWEATER 5K.



Oh, the joy that spread in my heart when I saw this. At first I was afraid that it was going to be on the same day as one of my other 5Ks but the fates smiled upon me and it's actually the week after the second one. It's a fun run, which means it's not timed, and since I'll have done two runs prior to this for the month, I'm not entirely opposed to the idea of walking/skipping/bounding excitedly through this one. Plus, they give you hot chocolate every mile. You can't run and drink hot chocolate at the same time. That seems like it would end badly.

The Ugly Sweater has become a cliche, but it's one that I embrace wholeheartedly. (You'll recall 2011's Ugly Sweater Contest, yes?) It reeks of hipsters but I don't even care. It's cheesy and funny and wonderful.

Image via Groupon

According to the race site, you get a custom vintage knit hat, lots of hot chocolate, two beers or hard ciders, and... a mustache, because mustaches are festive, apparently. ("If you can't grow one, we'll give you one.") There are also supposed to be hot chocolate stations along the route, snow blowers, Clark Griswold's yard, "reindeer games", a Santa inflatable, and holiday music all along the way. There are prizes for the best mustache and beard as well as worst/best sweaters (wait, what? Wouldn't the "worst" sweater technically be the best?). Last but not least, they are encouraging everyone to bring a toy to donate to Toys for Tots, which is incidentally also the charity that they are donating to.

To be honest, I was already on the sign up page before I even read through all of that. I was just kind of like OMG RUNNING AROUND IN UGLY SWEATERS THIS IS GOING TO BE HILARIOUS AND AWESOME AND GIMME GIMME GIMME. Then I was like, oh, what's this? free hat? free mustache? oh, there's their charity. Nifty! (Basically: it just kept getting better and better).

Of course, I have an ugly sweater tee, which is a bit snug because I've gotten fatter since I bought it (these things happen), so I might have to find a replacement. Top contenders abound, but I'm kind of being a cheapskate. This would be my ideal, if money weren't an object (it's about $55 which is... a bit much for something like this):


I regret not buying this hat last year, especially when it went on clearance and was like $5, because now they don't have it anymore:




Of course, these bad boys ARE still available, and I plan on making them mine:



I guess beyond that, I will need to accessorize. I wonder if I can find some cheap green pants or something. Maybe some Christmasy shades that aren't terribly expensive. As much ridiculous, tacky holiday adornment as I can find. It's gonna be great.



Here's their website, should you be keen on finding one in your area. Or you can come to Des Moines, because that should be your #1 destination of choice in November. (Hey, there's a 50/50 chance it won't have snowed yet. It could be 70 degrees and sunny or it could be 30 degrees with two feet of snow. There's no way of knowing! It's so wacky and unpredictable! Lolz!) No but seriously. You can even buy a Groupon for a $20 entry if you want. That's HALF THE PRICE for early registration. I don't even know if that's a legit referral link but I don't even caaaare. COME PRANCE AROUND IN RIDICULOUS MERRIMENT WITH ME!

[via]

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Starting My Last Year that Starts with a 2

Monday was my birthday - I don't know if I mentioned that? I think I had my pre-29 freakout and then never mentioned it again. Birthdays are weird when you're older. They're not nearly as fun and exciting as they are when you're a kid. Or even when you're in your early twenties. I'll still get a slight twinge of anticipation when I suddenly realize that my birthday is in two days, but maybe that's just nostalgia. You're not supposed to get excited about your birthday when you're an adult, it seems. Which wasn't hard for me this year. I was oddly depressed about it, for reasons I can't really articulate, but birthday plans had to be prodded out of me. It came and went and in some ways it was just another day, but in others, it was nice to feel special and loved.

As far as feeling older, well, nothing feels different. I suppose that I'd been making my peace with 29 for several weeks leading up to it (to the point where I had to remind myself several times that I was still, in fact, 28) so it kind of felt like I was already there. I feel a bit more older and wiser and mature than I did when I turned 28 last year, but I think that's largely because I've grown and changed quite a bit over the last year, in subtle ways that have added up, and that I only notice now because I'm taking stock of things. If that makes any sense.

My fuse is also shorter and my patience is much thinner for the vapid and the shallow, and for the glaring shortcomings of "kids" in their early 20s. I am officially, completely removed from that era - though I'm not quite "in" with the next age bracket yet - and, frankly, it kind of makes me feel like a snob. But at the same time, I think it's because I've mellowed out. Different things are important to me, and things that I used to give occasional concern to (for example, pageviews and traffic on this here blog) - I no longer give a flying kitten about. Because it doesn't matter. For the first time, I'm pretty content with being in a slower lane. Watching the vitriol that gets spewed at anyone with a high profile on the Internet, well... no thank you. I'd rather be a bit obscure and keep a positive space. Because the people that hang around here? Are awesome. They are friendly and smart and not bitter anonymous trolls. Which is worth way more than a higher Google Page Rank.

Not just Internet stuff though, either, even though that's where it seems to be the most obvious. I'm returning to my happy place, which mainly means that I've been reading more, staying in more, finding my center in solitude more. I don't meditate or do yoga but I've found that a lot of my personal inner peace, so to speak, simply comes from being alone for a while, practicing my hobbies and shutting out the noise of the world.

Getting older terrifies me a bit, insomuch as the current lifestyle I have, the one that suits me so well, is very much one of someone in their late twenties/early thirties. I kind of feel like I'm in my prime and that my particular contentment isn't sustainable into the decades that come later. Because this type of freedom isn't something that you associate with middle age. I have no desire to trade my apartment for a house because I want nothing to do with the expense or the maintenance; I have no desire to trade my quirky yet pleasing aesthetic and decor for ivories and bieges and mature taste. Maybe this will be a natural progression as I age, and the things I like now, I will turn my nose up at in ten years - kind of the way I am doing it to my own younger self now. Maybe it just means I'm on track, I'm developing at the proper pace, and life will carry on as it should. I feel much more self-aware and well-adjusted now than I did at 26 or 27. It took me a while to find my footing, but then again, I've always been a late bloomer. But once I get there, everything clicks.

I don't even know what I'm trying to say, other than that 29 feels exactly like 29. It feels just right for where I am now. I fit pretty well in 28; it felt like I'd been 28 forever and would always be 28, but now it feels like 29 is okay too. Even though it's only been four days. (One thing is for sure, I'm definitely not getting more eloquent with age.)

Mostly, I just kind of felt like I should acknowledge it somewhere. Share a few initial observations about where I'm at. Because even if you're not supposed to get super excited about your birthday when you're an adult, it's kind of weird to outright ignore it. So here we are: I am now officially a year older, and even though I joke about it constantly, I don't really feel "old." I don't feel "young" either - I just feel like... me.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Caturday

It's been a while since I've posted some pictures of my cat. This needs remedied. She's been super cute lately.

'Cause this is THRILLER

Pretty girl.

That's all. Enjoy your weekend. xo

Monday, September 16, 2013

Older, Wiser, Wordier

Today is my blog's 5th birthday.

I got us cake. The blog can't have any. She's watching her girlish figure. More for me.

This year, as I noted once, though I don't remember when, was full of fives. Five years at my job... Five years with my cat (who, incidentally, also turned five.) Five years since my sister got married. Five years since I moved back to this town. Five years since Barack Obama was elected President. Five years since my first IKEA visit. (See, this is why people blog. To remember the important details of their life.)

My first post was me complaining about how someone else already had my username (which is, of course, a moot point since I finally bought my own domain back in, eh... 2011? Right before my first #BiSC) and my second post is me explaining why I started yet another blog and basically just sounding like a typical not-quite-24-year-old that has nothing to say but wants to be heard all the same.

The rest, as they say, is history.

I don't feel like a lot has changed around here, but I guess it has. I'm still me... but I'm older (obviously) and wiser (arguably) now. I swear a lot less because a lot more people read it; I post a lot less because I have too much to say (what? no, it makes sense: I get overwhelmed and then whatever I was going to say sort of eventually becomes irrelevant). I've tried to focus more on quality rather than quantity (debatable, but at least I feel like I'm putting more thought into things.) I've actually made a tiny bit of money from my prolonged presence, either directly or indirectly, though not really enough to write home about. I've made friends - some that I've met, some that I haven't. (YET.) I've had epiphanies and facepalm moments.

I got on a plane, by myself, to travel to a city I'd never been to, by myself, to hang out for an entire long weekend with people I'd never actually met, simply because they were like me and because it sounded fun. It was the scariest and most awesome thing I've ever done, and I will be forever grateful to myself for working up the courage to say yes to something crazy.

I'd like to think my writing as evolved and changed over five years... gotten better, with any luck. (Though I did make the mistake of reading through some of my early posts and, ugh. I should probably go through and delete all the dumb stuff I wrote back then. Is that cheating? Maybe that's cheating. Other people do it. On the one hand, I hate to get rid of anything, because at one point, that was reflective of who I was and how I saw the world and how I needed to express myself... on the other, while my worldview hasn't necessarily changed, my level of eloquence undoubtedly has. Nostalgia and self-preservation versus... the Non-Sucky Writing Police, I guess. Excuse me while I have a personal dilemma over here. BRB.)

I'd be remiss if I didn't admit that I also post a lot less because I've been spending more time offline. A funny thing is happening to my generation: while we midwifed the birth of social media and threw our lives out into the abyss (perhaps not setting the best of examples for the generations after us, because having not had a time Before The Internet, they maybe don't know balance quite like we do; they don't know hesitation and they certainly don't know about boundaries)... we're getting older now. Our needs are fulfilled less and less by pixels on a screen and more and more by the things happening out in the world. We're growing up. We're starting to move on. Several other bloggers I know have made passing note of this, and I started a post once about it. The winds are shifting. It almost feels like the heyday is over (is it? It's hard to say for sure). But here's what I know: I'll still be here. I was writing online before it was Something That Everyone Did and I will continue to write here after people have gotten bored and moved on. It feeds the part of my soul that needs to connect, that needs to share, that needs to tell stories.

One thing, though, that hasn't changed, though I've learned to make my peace with it: I still hate the word "blog." 

Friday, September 13, 2013

Somewhere in Here is a Recipe

On the one hand, I miss writing my baking column for Twenties Hacker. Every time I make something new, in fact. It feels weird to not be taking photos or making notes or sharing some delicious goodness with my small but loyal legion of bake-sketeers. (That didn't work as well as I had hoped.)

On the other hand, I don't miss the stress of hitting a weekly deadline, especially not one that I wasn't getting paid for. It never really worked to "bake ahead" and do a bunch at once. I tried it, toward the end. I think it actually stressed me out more. It's also kind of nice to not stop every thirty seconds and take a photo - my cooking/baking process is much more streamlined and efficient without trying to document every step.

In order to reconcile these two conflicting sentiments, I've decided to go ahead and just occasionally post a recipe here. It makes sense - I've already got the real estate. I tried having a separate recipe blog but it's kind of a barren wasteland over there. I haven't posted on it in two years. I can't bring myself to delete it, either. But considering that everyone has to eat, and I'm not going to post recipes that are impossible or gross, I'm hoping it won't bother any of the ten or twelve of you that read this. If it does, in fact, impair your enjoyment of this site, I will move them over to the other one.

Blah blah blah, my point is: I made cookies.

If you know me at all, even casually, in passing, you've heard of me, maybe, you know that I am one of those crazy pumpkin people. The day that Starbucks releases the Pumpkin Spice Lattes is like an extra Christmas (is it just me, or are they exceptionally good this year?). I will buy everything I can find that has "pumpkin" in the name (this year's new finds so far: pumpkin spice M&Ms and pumpkin pie ice cream). I've finally even started a dedicated Pinterest board to Just Pumpkin. I've been sent multiple compilations of pumpkin recipes already... which means, it's time to get started.


I found this particular recipe through one of those articles and decided to start with it because I already had all the ingredients on hand (or ingredients that I could substitute, which slightly alters the original recipe) and because it finally stopped being 100+ degrees outside so I could finally turn the oven on without having a heat stroke. These cookies are stupidly easy, which means I'll probably have to make them again, which I say about everything but there's only SO MUCH TIME.


Anyway. Here's the recipe. In case that's what you came here for.


PUMPKIN CRANBERRY OATMEAL COOKIES
adapted from Eat Drink Love's Pumpkin Breakfast Cookies

Ingredients:
1 can pumpkin puree
1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce
1/3 cup almond oil
1/3 cup raw honey
1-1/2 cups quick oats
3/4 cup flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup dried cranberries

Some notes on the ingredients: 

1. THE PUMPKIN

No matter what the recipe calls for, I will, without fail, put in an entire can of pumpkin. This has yet to cause me a problem, but I'm sure someday I will screw something up. Until that day, I will continue to change every single recipe I make to call for the whole can.

I mean, really. What are you going to do with a quarter can of pumpkin anyway? Exactly.

2. THE ALMOND OIL

Almond oil is great and I've subbed it in several recipes, usually ones that call for an oil that the BF is allergic to (macadamia nut oil, coconut oil, etc). I didn't really know it existed until I read about it in a cookbook that is full of healthy recipes and talks about the benefits and awesome properties of the various foods. It is an anomaly among my cookbooks, though at this point I would probably own more healthy cookbooks if I used them anymore - mostly, I just pull things from the Internet.

The reason almond oil is great is because it's pretty versatile and can be used in any range of temperatures. Not all oils "work" at high heats, but this one does. It's also high in "omega-3 essential fatty acids" which I don't really know much about but it's supposed to be good for you. Almonds are good for your heart, anyway. And I guess they can lower your cholesterol. See, this is educational.

The caveat? It's hella expensive, unless you can get a deal on it. I actually found a bottle at TJ Maxx, of all places, that was twice as large and half as expensive as the bottle I got at the grocery store. Go figure.

3.THE RAW HONEY

Raw honey is great, but kind of expensive, but worth it, in my opinion. The original recipe called for agave nectar which multiple people have told me isn't the greatest for baking, plus I already had a jar from a surprisingly delightful batch of chickpea brownies that I made a few months ago, so I decided to go ahead and swap it out.

I had a hard time finding it at first, and ended up victorious at our local food co-op. I think the health section of our regular grocery store has it now too. It looks different than regular honey - it's kind of an opaque gold color, and might still have bits of the honeycomb in it. It's better because it hasn't been processed to death like "regular" honey (you know, the kind that comes in the little bear-shaped containers) - it still has all of the original enzymes and antioxidants that get lost in the heating process.

4. THE OATS

If, like me, you happen to be standing in your kitchen at 9:15pm, still sweaty and gross from your run (because if you're going to turn the oven on and sweat some more, you may as well hold off on the shower), and realize that you only have 2/3 of a cup of quick oats left and you really don't want to go to the grocery store, and hey, there's an almost-full container of old-fashioned oats sitting right there, and you decide to mix the two together to get to the 1-1/2 cups that you need... it seems to work okay.

5. OTHER THINGS I CHANGED

The original recipe called for whole wheat flour, which is better for you, but I had perfectly good regular flour that I needed to use up. So I did. You can also add walnuts or other nuts to it but I left those out because (a) I did not have them and (b) the BF is allergic. I AM SO CONSIDERATE. You can also add chia or flax or whatever else moves you. I didn't because I forgot. But you totally could if you wanted.

IF YOU SURVIVED THE INGREDIENT LIST, HERE IS HOW TO MAKE THE COOKIES, BUT I DID NOT INCLUDE STEP-BY-STEP PHOTOS BECAUSE IT IS REALLY EASY AND ALSO THAT IS A LOT OF WORK AND IT'S ALREADY PAST MY BEDTIME:

Preheat your oven to 350ยบ Fahrenheit.

In a large bowl, mix together the pumpkin, honey, applesauce, and oil (aka: the wet ingredients). No need to get out the fancy mixer - using a spoon or spatula or whisk works great.

In a different, smaller bowl, mix together the oats, flour, baking powder, cinnamon, and salt (aka: the dry ingredients.)

Mix the wet ingredients and dry ingredients.

Add the cranberries and/or any nuts that you might be using.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper (you probably don't have to, but I did because I didn't feel like washing my cookie sheet) and scoop the batter into little balls. I found that mine stayed in ball formation even after they were baked (the original recipe showed them being flatter...) so you'll want to leave some room around them but you don't need a lot.

Bake for 14 minutes. Cool on a rack. EAT.

FINAL THOUGHTS:

1. These are really good. Usually when I think of "cranberry" my next thought is "orange" - I wasn't sure what to expect with the cranberry-pumpkin combo, but it was awesome. I did toy with the idea of throwing in chocolate chips, but that would have decreased the healthiness value... and also, I didn't have any. I don't think it really needs them though. But it might be interesting to try. The texture is pretty soft and chewy. In case you were expecting something else.

2. I took the word "breakfast" out of the title of my version because these taste too damn delicious to be something that would be appropriate for breakfast (not that that's going to stop me from using it as an excuse to eat them right when I wake up). I'm not sure what makes a breakfast cookie, a breakfast cookie, but it almost seems like cheating to me. Cookies for breakfast?! What is this madness?!

3. I got 35 cookies out of this batch. Enough for sharing! I mean, if I'm nice. That's kind of a lot of cookies to eat by myself though.

4. This post is probably indicative as to why the CIY franchise should remain resting in peace. Howeeeeeeeeever, it's not technically part of that series.... yeah, this post is a disaster. Whatever, it was fun. Next time it will be much more straightforward. Probably.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Quit Telling Me I Suck, I Already Know

It's my birthday month. I don't know how else to start what is going to be an inevitable existential braindump any other way than to assume that this annual marked passage of time is somehow responsible for it. I started in the middle and now I have had to wind my way back to the beginning in order to make sense of any of it.

I'm almost 29. I didn't expect to be much affected by it. I expected next year to be the major blow to my being. The one with the big scary round number at the end. This year, I simply figured I would throw together some sort of shindig in which I would cleverly observe that it was my last birthday that started with a 2 - my last trip around the sun as a twenty-something. I didn't expect to get introspective and I didn't expect to suddenly feel suffocated by the reality that I was a certified grownup and that I felt like I still had the emotional and mental faculties of a teenager. Nothing makes a person feel more stunted than by a sudden realization that they have a lot of years under their belt that they were supposed to be using to gain wisdom and life experience but instead spent them passing from day to day with their head in the clouds.

I suspect I'm not alone in feeling like I don't have this adulthood schtick figured out just yet. I feel like an impostor most days of the week and on the days when I am safely ensconced in my personal apartmental sanctuary, I feel even more like a phony. I mean, sure, I've kept myself alive and functional in the last decade or so of independence, I've managed to secure food and shelter and pay all my taxes and even succeeded in keeping a cat alive for five years under my care and guidance. But I look around me and I feel like I know what I should be doing. People my age - and younger! - are having kids. They are directly responsible for the lives of other human beings. Human beings that they created. (It's also vaguely disconcerting to know that when my mother was my age, she had a five year old and a three year old running around.) On the other end of the spectrum, people my age are taking care of ill parents or grandparents and having to make medical, legal, and financial decisions. Something I am ill-equipped to do. I am grossly underinformed when it comes to such things, especially financial. I know I should have a 401(k) or a Roth IRA or something but I don't really know what those are. I don't feel qualified to make medical decisions on behalf of other people, if such a thing should be required, which someday, it probably will be, since I am the oldest child.

I haven't the slightest clue what I'm doing.

Youth is a plausible excuse for a lot of shortcomings. It offers you a learning curve that people are more or less understanding of. It takes time to learn all the grownup stuff you need to know. But I'm rapidly reaching a point where I can no longer hide behind youthful ignorance because I am barreling headfirst into the murky waters of middle-age. It's not acceptable for me not to know how to get a loan or shop for a new car without my dad's expertise and assistance or how life insurance works. It's irresponsible for me to let my gas tank run to the E without filling up, it's selfish of me not to think about calling my parents every week, it's downright shameful that I don't know how to use the broiler on my oven. I don't know how to fix a sink or shampoo carpet or fold a fitted sheet. I don't even think to clean my light fixtures or windowsills even though they are kind of nasty and insect-filled. I don't know how to negotiate for a better price. The list goes on and on and on until it leaves me curled up in the fetal position under a blanket on my futon. I don't even have a real couch. Hell, I don't have matching furniture.

Gearing up for my high school reunion nearly sent me into an existential tailspin simply because of the acknowledgement of the passing of time. Ten years. Which is both a lot, and not a lot, at the same time, and suddenly seems like much less when you realize that, on average, most people only get eight of those particular increments, if they're lucky. I've already wasted almost three. Though I suppose "wasted" isn't fair - the first two were spent largely preoccupied with the simple business of growing up. We use up almost a quarter of our lives just getting to the point where we can start living them. Not to incite panic or anything, but at some point in your twenties, you're going to be faced, probably more than once, with the realization of your own mortality. You are going to lose someone. Possibly multiple someones. I was hit over the head with this fact in the year that I turned twenty-two, which seems like an impossibly long time ago. I barely remember being in my early twenties, it almost feels like it didn't really happen. I've been the age I currently am, forever. I have always been this age. Obviously not true, but it feels like it.

And then you think: my life is almost half over. Or maybe not. Maybe it's only a third of the way over. Or maybe it's actually 95% over and you're going to die in two weeks. You have no way of knowing. It's incredibly morbid and incredibly unsettling. Sure, no one expects to die before "their time"-  but that's the thing. No one expects to die before their time. And yet, people do. Every day. It's tragic and shocking and what makes it even more tragic and shocking is that it could easily be any one of us, at any time. I could get hit by a bus this afternoon. I mean, I hope I don't, but that's my point: life is fragile and unpredictable and yet all we can do is keep on living it and keep looking both ways before we cross the street.

But while our mortality is what makes life so beautiful in its immediacy and its fleetingness - it's so easy to forget about. And so those flickers of amazing human compassion and understanding light up our neurons for a few moments, and then we go back to the mundane, which roughly translates to being mean to each other and constantly making each other feel bad about ourselves in order to advance our own agendas. Humans are equal parts selfish and selfless - we like to help others (because it makes us feel good about ourselves?) but we are constantly told - and tell others - that the key to it all is to look out for #1. So that is what we do.

In the meantime, a lot of modern-gal helpfulness is disguised as motivation and advice, in a really passive-aggressive sort of way, at least in the current culture climate of North America. I can't speak for anywhere else. This is what I know.

We are bombarded with messages about what our lives are supposed to be, and this is especially true if you hang out on the Internet. I'm supposed to quit my stable job with a steady paycheck to go into business for myself or chase some ambiguous dream. I'm supposed to travel a lot and visit places that I can't afford to go. I'm supposed to network to within an inch of my life and I'm probably supposed to have a mentor (though what I would do with one, I don't even know). I'm supposed to be engaged and planning a picture-perfect wedding, or have an apartment (or house) that is decorated neatly and yet slightly eccentrically, but also pretty enough to grace the pages of a magazine or at least someone's Pinterest board, or I'm supposed to be procreating and taking awkwardly-posed maternity photos. I'm supposed to work out often enough to have an acceptable body, yet it's never exactly specified when I am going to find time to do this. I'm supposed to be self-aware, self-actualized, intentional, purpose-driven. I'm supposed to be charming and demure and polite and yet equally sassy and wise and savvy to the world. There's a quote floating around that declares You have just as many hours in a day as Beyonce - accusing me of being lazy and that if I was trying hard enough to manage my time and prioritize, I too could be fabulous and adored. I could be more. Here's the thing: Beyonce is a mega-celebrity. She doesn't have to do the mundane shit that plebeians like myself do. She actually has a lot more time than I do because her hours aren't bogged down with the same stuff mine is. And it's this kind of demotivational bullshit that makes me silently scream, "enough."

I cannot live up to these standards. I'm not sure anyone can.

In actuality, my life looks more like a tangled mess that people would scoff at. It's not picture-perfect and it's not pretty. I frequently sleep until the very last minute and don't give myself time to groom myself to perfection every morning. My apartment is a mess, it's small and filled with all of the clutter of the previous twenty-eight years of my life. It's far from immaculate and it's kind of a crap-hole most days and I'm embarrassed to have people over because not only do I not have anywhere to put them (did I say small? I meant tiny), but I feel them silently judging me. Sometimes not-so-silently. I sometimes chug a bottle of diet soda (oh, the cancer I will have!) to jumpstart my energy in the afternoon; I will frequently eat pre-packaged, overly-processed foods that are in no way organic or even composed of pronounceable ingredients, because I don't have time for anything else. I'm lumpy and squishy and frumpy and my appendages aren't even in the same universe as "toned" or "trim" and I'm sometimes catty and grouchy and thoughtless. I would love, just love, to quit my job to sit and write a book, but here's the thing: I have to live. I have to have a paycheck so I can pay my rent and my bills and eat and have health insurance and dental insurance. I'm not sure I would have the focus to sit down and hammer out a bestseller (or even a "seller") anyway. It's impractical and foolish, so I'm doing the responsible thing, but the world tells me I am betraying myself and my dreams. I'd like to know how the world is financing itself, frankly. Besides, having a 9-to-5 job isn't quite the urban horror that people make it out to be.

But that's not even the problem, not what I sat down to write today. It's just a side rant that's been bubbling up every time I see some preachy or life-coachy advice. I hate being called Sunshine or Gorgeous or Darling and I hate sticky-sweet messages of motivation and the verbal pom-pom shaking and the false praise and the blanket statements of following my heart. My heart can be an idiot. My heart doesn't have to pay the bills. It can't just "go do" the Thing I've been wanting to do. And I'm sorry because I have friends that are totally in this, they're building a brand or a mantra around it, and that's great. For them. It's not applicable to my life. My life is rooted in lower-middle class reality, hovering dangerously close to the poverty line, knowing all too well what it feels like to have maxed out credit cards and to overdraw your bank account paying your electric bill. My early twenties were dodgy; the job market was dodgy (still is, really), and it's not like I came from money. I come straight from the heart of middle America, and that is the simple fact of the matter. It was something I resisted for most of my adolescence, craving the mystical "more" - I was bombarded with messages that the only way to consider my life a success was to run like hell from the small town where I was born and raised, get a fancy job, make something of myself, never settle for less than I "deserved."

I don't deserve shit, and neither does anyone else.

Those messages are kind of damaging, because they are as deeply ingrained in my psyche as those of ideal beauty and body shape/size. They tell you that simply living your life day to day means you have failed. You will never be a whole or worthwhile human being until you achieve greatness. You need to do something with your life. Something remarkable. And it's always on someone else's terms, someone else's definitions. Someone else gets to decide what counts as being successful and I'm pretty sure that all notions of success are, somewhere, rooted in some past marketing campaign that was trying to get someone to buy into something at some point. It worked. It always works. Someone always makes money off of your pain and insecurities. It's twisted. Here, buy some waterproof mascara so you can look pretty while you cry yourself to sleep.

Do I sound bitter? Maybe I am. Am I jealous? Sure. I wish I could have the easy-breezy free-spirited life that I'm told I should/could have. I would love to travel and be location-independent and completely and totally in love with my life. But maybe, mayyyybe, I'm just kind of tired of hearing about it, because it's unrealistic. I'm frustrated by constantly being told that I'm not doing it right. That I'm not enough simply by being me. I'm tired of being made to feel bad about myself because I'm not exceptional. I'm so sick of feeling like I need something to brag about, some defining specialness that I can lord over others. I'm not special. I keep fighting that notion, trying to convince myself that I'm uniquely awesome and should climb on up some invisible pedestal. But I'm not. I'm not special, I'm actually far from it. I'm so unbelievably average that it's almost painful to think about.

So here I am. I'm 28 and change, saving up a few more pennies until I have an even dollar to make it to that next tier. I have done nothing of note during my adult life, nothing to brag about, and no real reason to believe that that's going to change anytime soon. I am not a free spirit. I am not living with intention. I am floundering my way through existence the best way that I know how and it's pretty much the opposite of intentional most days. I have no idea what happens next. I feel small and insignificant in the grand scheme of things, and yet my presence seems to be so magnified in my own daily existence that every little move I make seems huge. It's paralyzing.

I hesitate to hit the post button (so I've been stalling by continuing to ramble, because everyone knows that that always makes it better) because I've been trying so damn hard to cultivate a positive attitude to combat all the secondhand negativity that seeps into my life like smoke into lungs. I'm whining, and I know it. Or at least I started to somewhere in the middle. I kind of hate the fact that I can't even go on a tirade without apologizing for it. I continue to be just as insecure as I've always been. Like me, dammit. I beg of you. Validate my existence. Ugh. But there's really no use in pretending that I'm not, I guess? It would almost be lying by omission. Isn't that the point of blogging, anymore? To be honest? Even if that means you are wittingly revealing all your flaws and shortcomings. Even if you are kind of being a whiny brat and/or going on frustrated verbal flailing sprees. Even if, even if, even if. I don't care, I guess. I've never been one to follow all the blogging rules anyway. I guess I'm just trying to justify being such a turd. Sorry I'm bitter at your brag-worthy lives. Out loud. In public. I'm a jerk. I'm sorry. But I had to get it out of my system. Not that any of those people read this blog or care what I have to say. Even so.

So, there it is. I will be honest. I'm lost and confused and bitter and depressed and suffocating in my I'm-An-Adult mask. I've been trying to figure out what it means to be a full-fledged human adult and what the hell I'm supposed to be doing with this pocket of time that I was so graciously given custody of. Turns out, I have no idea, I am simply more aware of the fact that I have no idea, and I'm really cranky at all of the outside forces rubbing salt into my particular wound. It's kind of an ugly process, self-awareness, and I don't feel any better now than I did when I started typing, but, hey, at least I wrote something.

Progress.